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Mark Banschick M.D.

Teenage Driving

Springtime fun, music, driving and safety

Source: Photo: iStock

Spring is here. And, so are a ton of happy, excited drivers.

And, some of them are new drivers. So, what's the problem?

It might just be your favorite tune.

Music, Driving & Risk:

I love my music, but I love living more, so here's the some interesting - and upsetting research.

  • According to recent research, when your favorite song is blaring through the car stereo when you’re in the driver’s seat, there’s a high chance it’ll make you a worse driver.
  • The other day I was driving and listening to the radio. I was so consumed that I missed my exit and was late for an appointment. So, while this blog is targeted to teen drivers, let's not forget that music can distract even the most experienced drivers.

Distracted Driving:

Multitasking when driving is dangerous, and although most of us already know that, now you have to add your favorite music to the mix of things to watch out for.

Listening to music isn’t the only potentially dangerous act , but also talking on the cell phone, speaking to other passengers in the car, or texting . AAA reports that distracted driving accounts for 25 to 50% of all accidents.

  • People under 20-years-old are guilty for being among the largest group of distracted drivers, accounting for 11% of fatal car crashes.

Because multitasking has become the norm, many of us believe we are entirely capable of it, especially on the road. But research has proven that humans are in fact terrible at juggling different activities, and it is incredibly taxing on the brain at the terrifying expense of real productivity.

Background Music:

Many of you are probably thinking driving without music is unbelievable dull or you find it difficult to drive without music on in the background. An American born Israeli psychologist Warren Brodsky discovered that “driving with background music might be the most prevalent music behavior ever taken on by the human species.” His latest book, “Driving with Music: Cognitive-Behavioral Implications” draws up his findings on the direct relationship between driving and music behavior.

Research provides us with strong evidence that listening to music affects the way we drive. It depends how emotionally invested you are in the song that is playing. If a song jogs any particular memory or experiences frequent change in tempo or volume, it is bound to distract you from the primary task at hand: driving.

In general, drivers are not aware how a song can draw them in, reducing their concentration levels while operating a vehicle. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve divided their driving task with music listening.

Genres Matter:

Worldwide, drivers between the ages of 16 to 30 normally listen to pop, hip-hop, rap, dance, and rock. These genres tend to be energetic and are usually played at higher, if not, tremendously loud volumes. These particular choices of music inadvertently encourage more reckless and speed driving. The faster the beats, the more excited the driver becomes as she concentrates more on the music and less on the road.

A study conducted by Brodsky and his colleague Zack Slor studied 85 drivers, particularly young drivers, since they have the most accidents and fatalities, who had only been licensed for at least seven months. During two of the experiments, drivers were allowed to listen to music of their choosing and another two sessions involved softer music, like soft rock and light jazz. The final two sessions involved no music at all.

  • Findings: More driving errors occurred with a favorite song or track. And, unfamiliar and slower music appeared to have better outcomes. It’s counter intuitive because we feel better listening to music that we love. In fact, that sense of well-being is a distraction from the task of driving well.

What’s a Driver to Do?

Brodsky suggests cruising to well-balanced music with a steady tempo and rhythm and perhaps without lyrics. It is important to remain emotionally balanced while operating a vehicle and certain genres may just help you get there .

Some Consolation:

Look, who doesn't love playing their favorite tune while driving?

Make no mistake, we can't expect one short article to prompt a major change in behavior. But, if you can switch it up, listen to other stuff, or simply be mindful to the urgency of keeping your eyes and ears alert to the road, maybe a life or two can be saved.

After all, a mistake not made, is the best mistake of them all.


Research Assistants, Gabriel Banschick & Gabrielle Kwarteng

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